Barcelona traveled to Greece earlier today to face Panathinaikos in Champions League Group D action. Barcelona entered the match at the top of the group with eight points while Panathinaikos sat bottom of the group on two points. This was a must win match for Barca if they hoped to keep their current one-point advantage over FC Copenhagen to win the group.
Panathinaikos started out in a 4-5-1 with Tzorvas in goal while Vyntra, Boumsong, Kante, and Spyropoulos occupied the back. The midfield consisted of Katsouranis, Gilberto Silva, Luis Garcia, Marinos, Christodoulopoulos. Djibril Cisse was all alone up front. Barcelona started out in the usual 4-3-3 with Victor Valdes in goal while Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol, and Adriano made up the back four. The midfield three were Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, and Javier Mascherano. The forward positions were the usual suspects of David Villa, Lionel Messi, and Pedro Rodriguez.
Barca played keep-away pretty effectively for the first five minutes with no real chances though. A scary moment for Barca soon after as a miscommunication between Valdes and Pique led to neither of them gaining control of the ball as it fortunately rolled out of bounds. Panathinaikos showed great energy and clearly realized they had nothing to lose by going all out in this match early on. In the 20th minute it was Djibril Cisse who beat the offside trap for a one-on-one chance at the keeper but Valdes made a fantastic save on what surely should have been a goal for the Greens. When Cisse made his run it was Puyol who stuck his hand in the air, indicating he thought it was surely offside but in fact Pique had played him on and a fantastic opportunity was wasted for Panathinaikos.
In the 26th minute it was Adriano who gave Barca their best chance of the match thus far with a long range rocket that forced Tzorvas into a tough save. The true value of Adriano's shot was realized moments later on the ensuing corner as Alves and Pedro worked an absolutely beautiful give-and-go clinic that sent Pedro in on goal and his shot tucked in beautifully off the post for a 1-0 lead. The arrival of Afellay in January will boost the Barca attack but I can't imagine Pedro having a reduced role in the side! Also a great example of why Barca can't afford to lose Alves. Barca had 70% of the possession during the first 30 minutes of the match. Towards the end of the first half it was still all Barca with a couple of decent chances that didn't quite have the finishing touch. Messi didn't have many touches in the half but a few of his runs were simply mesmerizing.
The second half started off with more of the same. In the 53rd minute it was Adriano who sent in another rocket shot that forced the keeper into a tough save. Except for a few runs here and there by Panathinaikos it was all Barca and in the 62nd minute a simply stunning passing sequence gave Barcelona their second goal of the match Messi and Alves both worked the ball through Xavi, who in turn sent a one-touch pass to Iniesta cutting toward the box. Iniesta cut towards the center of the area, drawing the defense with him, then sent a brilliant pass to his left where Adriano came from nowhere. Adriano looked certain to fire a shot only to instead center a pass to the onrushing Messi who fired it into the back of the net. I had to watch the replay 10 times to figure out what happened because each of those passes were one or two touches and it all happened very quickly. This sequence of passing is what Barca are all about! Messi started and finished the play.
Just five minutes later it was Dani Alves who sent a beautiful ball forward to Iniesta in the box. Iniesta looked as if he may fire a shot but instead side-footed a pass to a charging Pedro who blasted a shot into the back of the net, 3-0 to Barca. The two goals within five minutes had a very "Almeria" feel to it. At this point Xavi was removed from the game in favor of Seydou Keita. Pique was removed as well, in favor of Eric Abidal. Moments later it was Adriano removed for Maxwell. The remaining 15 minutes of the match were the same as the first 75, all Barca. The game finished 3-0 and Barcelona controlled almost 80% of the possession in a truly dominating performance. It was an easy day for Victor Valdes but his early save on Djibril Cisse was crucial and the match may have gone differently had Panathinaikos had a 1-0 lead and changed tactics.
Elsewhere in Group D action Rubin Kazan stunned FC Copenhagen 1-0 which means Barca have not only secured their place in the knockout stage but they have won the group. This will allow coach Pep Guardiola to rest key players when Barca play Rubin Kazan on Dec 7 in the final group stage match. While great news for Barca, it's not great news for our writer Manuel, who will be attending the match at the Camp Nou on Dec 7 and may see a less than full strength team from Pep.